Statement on Libya and non-proliferation

On 28 January 2004, the Pugwash Executive Committee issued the following statement concerning non-proliferation and Libya.

Towards a WMD-Free Middle-East

The Middle East has long been plagued by conflict and tension, with the likelihood still great that conflict there could lead to the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

One recent positive development, however – Colonel Qadhafi’s decision to dismantle Libya’s facilities for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – could provide a window for both improving political stability in the area and strengthening international efforts to prevent nuclear and WMD proliferation. Qadhafi’s initiative, most likely stemming from a desire to end the sanctions imposed on Libya, would become even more significant if emulated by other countries either possessing or seeking nuclear and WMD weapons.

When placed in the context of other developments in the Middle East and neighboring regions, including increased Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the ending of the civil war in Sudan, there are reasons to hope that decades of stalemate on the issue of Middle East peace, and weapons of mass destruction, might come to an end.

Major obstacles remain, of course, the main one being Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. In order for there to be any prospect of a Middle East/North Africa free of all weapons of mass destruction, Israel and her Arab neighbors must follow the Libyan example of agreeing to total dismantlement of all WMD capabilities, under international supervision.

More broadly, this process would be greatly facilitated if the United States, Russia, and the other major nuclear powers lived up to their obligations, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to move expeditiously toward the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Not only have the nuclear powers failed to make adequate progress in this regard, the US administration in particular seems poised to develop new types of nuclear weapons. Unless the established nuclear powers demonstrate good faith and real progress towards eliminating their weapons, there is little prospect of other nuclear weapons countries and would-be proliferators following suit.

Until then, the world will face the continued threat that conflict in the Middle East, or elsewhere, could easily escalate to the use of nuclear weapons.